I am impressed when before giving an injection a doctor says, “This will pinch”, or “This may feel cold”, when about to put an instrument of some sort on your body. Pediatricians vary in the way they approach children about these things. Sometimes doctors and others think the way to get a child’s cooperation is to reassure them that everything will be fine. But what if it’s not?
A child who was suddenly having a hard time sharing, confided that she was worried about the baby in mommy’s tummy. She apparently was already thinking about having to share mommy with this new baby. The child’s mother had tried without success to reassure the girl that of course she would still be there for her.
Another mom observed that one has to be careful about the reassurance given. She pointed out that things are not going to be the same for the first child after the birth of a second both in the practical terms of time spent caring for a newborn, but also in terms of the psychological and emotional space which now must include two. This mom’s idea was that reassurance had to include reality so that a child would then not only be better prepared, but in the future would be able to trust what you tell her about things that may happen.
Some people have trouble with that approach, believing that rather than helping a situation you create unnecessary anxiety in a child. Yet that may really be our own anxiety about our child’s anxiety at work. We don’t want our children to feel upset, and so may resist talking about things that we think may upset them. Or we may worry that certain things are beyond a child’s ability to understand. Or it may feel simpler at times just to avoid dealing with upsetting things. Life with a child is easier that way – or so it may seem.
Some parents tell their child as soon as they know themselves, others whose pregnancy is apparent have still not talked to their child about it. What often emerges from these discussions is the idea that if parents do everything exactly the right way, they will prevent any unhappy or unpleasant repercussions in the older child, the children will love each other, and everyone will live happily ever after. Parents at times seem to feel guilty about having another child and inflicting on the first any feelings of loss or unhappiness that may result.
Children may indeed feel a sense of loss in no longer being the center of the universe. But that doesn’t mean we have done a bad or harmful thing in bringing it about. Not being the center of the universe is a reality of life we all have to learn to live with. Learning that is not so easy, so children may protest and be unhappy or resentful about it at times. But we have to keep reminding ourselves that children’s feelings are about them. They don’t mean we did something wrong.
Our children are going to encounter other realities of life and we want to help them be prepared to deal with experiences that may entail some struggle. We can do that by talking to them in a real way about things that are happening, have happened, or will happen, neither avoiding nor elaborating on the hard parts. What that means in practice depends on their age, their developmental stage, their personality and their temperament.
It means using what we know about our own child, not some theoretical idea about what is best.